By Colette Sheridan
Social & Personal, March/April 2006
Citing the legendary Richard Harris and Peter O’Toole as childhood idols, the unquestionably beautiful young Irish movie star Jonathan Rhys Meyers has succeeded in reaching the top of his game without ever having attended acting school. But fame and fortune haven’t come without a price. The recent Golden Globe winner opened his heart to Colette Sheridan on a rare visit home to his native Cork.
Jonathan Rhys Meyers is, you could say, a young man at the top of his game: starring with Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible 3 and due to start shooting August Rush with director Kirsten Sheridan (daughter of acclaimed Irish director, Jim). The 28-year-old flourishing Irish star, who recently picked up a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Elvis Presley on American TV, was back home in Cork at the end of January where he was made Cork Person of the Month and was given a civic reception in his native city.
Sporting a pinstripe suit, white shirt and bright blue tie (matching his eyes), he exuded charm and seemed at ease amoung family members and city dignitaries. His mother, Gerri O’Keeffe (Meyers is her maiden name) was beaming with pride and his three brothers just couldn’t help slagging Jonathan when they heard he had just been voted second sexiest man of 2006 by Social & Personal magazine.
“They said ‘Jaysus, they’re hard up.’ Someone else said that at least I beat Marty Whelan (although he wasn’t on the list!). It’s very nice but I don’t feel like a sex symbol as such because I live with myself 24/7. I’ve seen them all, all those movie stars. I know what they look like in real life. The only two male movie stars who are what they’re like on screen are George Clooney — a fantastic looking man — and Matthew McConnaughy, and they’re nice people as well. Oh, and Tom Cruise. He’s a very handsome man for his 44 years. He looks about 30. He’s got that energy and charm.” Meyers is generous in his appraisal of fellow stars. When Colin Farrell is mentioned, he immediately says: “He’s a very smart man. I know Colin a long time and I spoke to him quite recently. He’s starting a film in New York and he’s in gorgeous form.”
But what about recent reports that he’s done a stint in rehab?
“At some point, every talented actor of any worth has to hit that wall because when you’re given everything you ever wanted, what else do you have? Colin’s a very smart man. He’ll take the flop of Alexander and the beautiful work of The New World and he’ll be back ten times stronger because he sounds ten times stronger already. He’s one of the most brilliant actors, so I expect you’ll be seeing Colin with an Oscar in four or five years because he wants it. He’s an ambitious man and he’s a good man.”
Meyers is now up there with the best of them. It’s a dream come true for someone who always harboured ambitions.
“I was always a bit of a dreamer. No nine-year-old kicking a ball against a wall dreams he wants to be Jimmy O’Donoghue of Shamrock Rovers. He’s dreaming of wanting to be Maradona. When I was a kid, yeah, I wanted to be like the stars, maybe someone like Richard Harris or Peter O’Toole,” he says.
Born in Dublin, Meyers and his family moved to Cork when he was very young. He was just three when his father left the family. He had a tumultuous childhood spending time in an orphanage and being expelled from school at the age of 16. Once out of school, he used to spend time in a pool hall in Cork, where he was discovered by Hubbard Casting. They were talent spotting for the David Puttnam film War of the Buttons (1994) and asked Meyers to audition for it. However, after three days of auditions, he didn’t get the
role. Soon afterwards, he was called to an audition for Knorr soup and subsequently found himself considered for a major film. Before that, he featured in A Man of No Importance (1994) and his first
lead role was in The Disappearance of Finbar (1996). He got a call about the film Michael Collins (1996) and after meeting director Neil Jordan, he won the role of Collins’s assassin. From then on, Meyers has been in constant work.
But that doesn’t mean that he’s a spoilt smug Hollywood brat. Meyers admits to living with insecurity all the time.
“I think that all actors live with that reality where their last job is their last job. It’s the one industry where if you get a Golden Globe or an Oscar nomination, it will make a director look twice before they pass you on. Look at the advantages of it. When they’re selling a film, they can sell it by putting Golden Globe nominee (or winner) on it. It means a lot of them in selling their films but it’s like anything, you’re only as good as your
last job. What’s reaIly nice about the movie industry is that they’ve got a very short term memory which is bad when you have a hit and great when you have a flop, so it takes and gives with the same hand. I remember talking to Anthony Hopkins years ago and he thinks every job he does is his last job. I think that’s the same with all of us. It makes you terribly ambitious because you watch your step and as I’ve gotten older, I’ve been able to turn that ambition into something that’s actually productive.”
Meyers has never been to acting school and says he has made all his mistakes publicly. “I learnt a lot of harsh lessons from that. The lesson is that if you want to be successful, you’ve really got to give 100% of yourself and have respect for the people you’re working for.”
Richard Harris and Peter O’Toole may have been the stars the young Meyers wanted to emulate, but he is under no illusions about the hard-drinking lifestyle those two actors embraced at various times in their lives. “I was a hell-raiser for about a year alright, but only for a year. I think that was enough. I think it’s good to do that in your twenties but I gave up all that. It just didn’t suit me. It’s not the L.A. lifestyle. I think in the modern industry, you couldn’t get away with what O’Toole and Harris got away with. It’s too corporate (now). If they’re paying you X amount of money, they expect X amount of professionalism. I find I’m a better actor if I get to sleep at 11 o’clock.”
He’s certainly grounded. And as for winning the Golden Globe; “It’s a moment in time. Am I the Golden Globe? I’m not. I just won one.”
So what keeps him so levelheaded?
“I realise I’m a very lucky person and I’m very grateful for everything I have in my life. I know as soon as I start becoming ungracious, that will go away. If I stop becoming gracious, then I start forgetting who I am, forgetting myself. It’s who I am that’s my most productive facet. I think I’m a mixture of everyone I’ve ever met in my life. All my collective experiences made me who I am at this moment, both the good and the bad.”
Recalling the not so good times, Meyers says he found school “hard.”
“I found growing up very difficult. But I’d defy any young fellow to find growing up not difficult.”
These days, the actor has been the subject of romantic speculation in the tabloids regarding his co-star in Match Point, Scarlett Johansson. “I’m not romantically linked with her. I mean, we had great chemistry and we’re good friends and we worked very well together and I think we’ll work together in the future. I’ve got a very serious girlfriend (Reena Hammer). She’s from London. She studies ancient Latin translations and Persian. Her father owns beauty spas and her mother is a very famous make-up artist who has a cosmetics line.”
Money isn’t something that solely motivates Meyers.
“For my age, I’ve done very well and so has the tax man. I own a house in Cork which was a gift for my mother with my first big pay cheque. I have some property in Morocco and I’m buying a place in Dublin. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to get into that element. But really, I’m not into money. It’s not a big deal with me. I would have chosen different films if I was into money. I had a job offered to me recently which was great money but a bad quality thing. I’m motivated by good work because good work breeds good work. I do very, very well for myself and I’m always able to hold my own.”